I have a lot of things to prove to myself.
One is that I can live my life fearlessly. – Oprah Winfrey
We all have fears. Some of those fears are nothing but reflections of the past experiences we wish to avoid in the present and the future. Some of those fears turn into the anxiety of facing an uncertain future. Whatever this is, I bet we all know what fear feels like.
I will never forget one summer afternoon many years ago when my life changed forever. You see, since the earliest age I was growing up among cousins – fantastic natural swimmers. Me, on the other hand, not so much… I couldn’t brag about my swimming accomplishments. Nope.
In fact, I was so petrified about the idea of being in the water; I felt sick whenever I was in stone’s throw distance next to even the smallest zen pond in the garden. Any sight of the water gave me a massive panic attack with escalating perspiration. I didn’t like water. Not even one bit. I didn’t like being next to it. I hated the idea of swimming.
I wasn’t afraid of swimming; I was scared of drowning. So there, I was sitting on the river bank watching my cousins having fun while I stayed in the shadow under the beach umbrella. And the day was so hot; I began weeping. Sure, my cousins started teasing me for that. I was scared to go near water, but I needed to cool down and decrease my lucky chances of getting a sunstroke.
My uncle V. felt sorry for me and hated to see me weeping while other kids were teasing me for “being a Sissy.” So he approached me and said: “Why the hell are you crying? Look at the day and how cool it is to spend it in the sun swimming! Let’s go!” I remember being hesitant at first but there was something reassuring in the way he said that.
So I went and wrapped my arms around my uncle’s neck while we were swimming. Waves were spreading with each stroke and uncle reminded me of a massive ship crossing the ocean. I felt safe and relaxed. But then something horrible happened that changed me forever.
“You wanted to learn how to swim, didn’t you? So here is your chance!” – said Uncle V. and before I knew it, he threw me off his back into the deep water (but stayed close enough).
So there, I was on my own. Myself and the most underlying fear of drowning.
My heart was racing, beating like crazy against my chest. My arms and legs were stroking water as hard as they possibly could. I was never so scared in my life. Fear paralyzed me, contaminating every cell of my body. And as I was about to give up and go on the bottom of the river SOMETHING changed.
At moments like this we have two choices: to give up and go down to the bottom becoming one with that fear; or to transform the energy of the fear into the boost that empowers you to overcome virtually anything!
Something switched on me and then it was a matter of life and death. Fear asked me how tough and stubborn I thought I was. I felt astonishing anger, and a loud question crossed my mind sweeping all the anxious thoughts aside: “What? Are you done living? You are eight years old for God’s sake! Wake up, kid! Don’t give up!”
In the moments of great despair, we are capable of turning our fears into power that gives us the energy to turn ourselves around.
I kept stroking water pulling myself out until I gained buoyancy and stayed afloat! To this day, I have no idea how I managed that. I was running out of breath. I was shaking. I was still scared but in a different way. The wave of relief washed all over my face when I realized that just like that, my fear pushed me beyond my limits. I overcame my fear of drowning while I was drowning.
Uncle V. looked at me proudly as I was crawling out of the water out of breath and said: “Well done, you! I knew you would pull it off. Well done.”
Was it a dangerous method to learn how to swim? I bet it was. Did it help me? It sure did.
Was I angry with Uncle V.? Not even for a second. This valuable life skill of swimming opened up new horizons making my dreams of becoming a scuba diver realistic. And I am grateful for that.
Many years after that summer day, I came to Egypt and discovered a whole new underwater universe that I dreamed about since the earliest age while watching Jacques-Yves Cousteau documentaries. All I could think of was the desire to say “thank you” to my uncle (who sadly passed away a long time ago) for that tough lesson.
Because of that experience, I was lucky to unchain myself and stop being a hostage of my fear of drowning.
1. Find the Cause of Your Fear
Look in the face of your fears with honesty. One fear at a time. What does your fear mean?
For instance, for a vast majority of my life, I thought, that I was afraid of the dark just because someone told me that monsters lived in dark places. It took me some soul searching and a couple of memory retrieval sessions to get on the bottom of my fear of the dark. And I discovered that my fear of the dark was linked to a pretty bad fall down the stairs when I was sleepwalking as a kid!
It had nothing to do with the monsters in the dark. I was just scared to trip over something and hurt myself unintentionally. That’s all.
Take a moment and think about your fears and what they represent. Everything you need is within you. You can overcome anything at any given moment the very moment you decide to turn things around.
We are people, not emotionless robots and fears are natural. Our fears can tell us a lot about ourselves. When I reached out to the dark corners of my memories, I realized that fears could turn into an excellent source of self-discovery.
“Fear is a question. What are you afraid of and why? Our fears are a treasure house of self-knowledge if we explore them” – Marilyn French
Start your journey of overcoming your fears by first identifying where they are coming from. And you will learn a lot about yourself in the process.
2. What are You Missing Out On?
My grandmother had a pretty bad water-is-no-fun experience too. She was helping her parents to run a farm. And one day she was trying to save a young calf from drowning by pulling him out. But instead, she fell into the river and nearly drowned with him. They were both rescued, but ever since that day she swore she would never go near water again.
The fear of drowning is pretty intense for my grandmother and, when she saw the video of me scuba diving merrily in the depths of the Red Sea, it almost gave her a heart attack. And yes, she called me Crazy. But am I crazy or am I brave? 🙂 That’s another question…
If I didn’t overcome my fear of drowning I could have said “Goodbye” to my dream of discovering the depths of seas and oceans.
Now think about the benefits you are cutting yourself off from by missing out on the experience that you avoid due to severe fears and anxiety. What does it cost you? Think about it for a moment. Is it necessary to play safe all the time? Or is that “danger” just a mere illusion that prevents you from living to the fullest?
3. Facing Your Fears Head On
As I was growing up there was the idea planted in my mind that fear was something that indicated my weaknesses, that it was something to be ashamed of and ridiculed about. And I spend many years in the belief that fear equals weakness, so I always avoided situations that I was afraid of under various pretenses.
In truth, fear is not a weakness but merely a memory imprint of a painful outcome in a situation in the past. Our fears are trying to protect us from experiencing the same results, so we end up avoiding unpleasant situations at any price. And there is only one sure way to overcome our fears – face them head on and change the outcome from painful to neutral or even pleasing. The more you face your fears without repeating bad experiences, the less your mind will associate those situations with pain. And, depending on how the repeat experiences are, you might even start enjoying the very thing that you were afraid of!